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Students raise concerns about speaker selection for Founder’s Day

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Mercer’s Student Government Association announced today that they will meet with administrators to discuss Founders’ Day after hearing complaints on the selection of keynote speaker Jay Sekulow.

Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, is slated to deliver the annual Founder’s Day Address on Feb. 7.

Sekulow earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1977 and earned his Juris Doctor from the Mercer University School of Law in 1980.

“As student leaders, we strive to attract prominent alumni whom students will find interesting and who celebrate our commonalities and our differences, and we believe that Mr. Sekulow fits that description,” said SGA President Olivia Buckner in a Jan. 24 Mercer press release announcing Sekulow’s selection. “We look forward to hearing about his experiences as both an undergraduate and graduate student.”

Sekulow has received criticism in the past for his statements about LGBTQ rights and protection in public schools.

In an interview in the Los Angeles Times, Sekulow made comments suggesting that public schools should not promote one lifestyle over another and if students in the Los Angeles school district receive protections for their sexual orientation, students should also receive protections for their religious beliefs.

Following the announcement of his selection, Mercer students and alumni took to social media to voice their concerns.

“Founder’s Day is about bringing together the Mercer community, and he has a history of dividing communities. He has fought to criminalize some people for simply being,” Sean Kennedy wrote on the Mercer University Alumni Facebook page.  “This is already a divisive time.”

Others responded to the announcement on Twitter.

“This guy? This is the best representative of the university that we can find?” senior Justin Hanson wrote.

Some members of the Mercer community have suggested that students protest the event while others approve of the choice.

“Would love to hear this great American speak,” Linda Nichols commented on Facebook.

Members of SGA’s executive board met with administrators at 2 p.m. on Jan. 25 to discuss concerns raised by the student body.

Hours later, they shared a press release on the SGA Facebook and Instagram pages.

“As Bears, we should open ourselves to the marketplace of ideas that exists in our world. The speaker is excited to return home to campus to share the story of his Mercer experience,” SGA stated. “We are under no obligation to fall in line and agree with what is said, but not allowing them to share their story would contradict one of our core values as Bears, celebrating both our commonalities and our differences.”

The press release also stated that SGA and the administration are exploring the idea of holding a forum where students can share their opinions with Sekulow.

“While this is not by any means set in stone, due to the limited amount of time that we have, it is being explored,” the press release stated.

This report will be updated as more information becomes available.

[Editor’s note: this article was updated at 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 25 to reflect the results of the meeting between SGA and the administration]

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10 Comments

10 Responses to “Students raise concerns about speaker selection for Founder’s Day”

  1. Kyle Shook on January 25th, 2018 2:41 pm

    I am an alumnus of the school.

    I would like to point out that Sekulow’s record of homophobia goes well beyond the relatively milquetoast example given in this article.

    He has worked tirelessly to advance a rabidly homophobic and transphobic agenda. He has headed an organization that promotes reinstating sodomy laws, has personally funded anti-LGBT bills in Africa, ranging from criminalization to “kill the gays” bills. He has signed emails saying that LGBT people are bent on “destroying our communities.” Positioning his political controversy around “religious freedom” in schools is a gross misrepresentation of both his extreme record and the University’s own culpability in extending him an invitation in the first place.

    This does not even touch on his history of Islamophobia and his undisguised hostility towards immigrants.

    I would like that to be clear. The outrage by alumni and students (including LGBT alumni such as myself) is rooted in this man’s extreme, damaging, and hateful lecture. This is not a free speech issue. It is a question of using Founder’s Day as a platform for someone who has a lasting and visible legacy of promoting anti-LGBT harassment and violence.

    [Reply]

  2. Sean Kennedy on January 25th, 2018 2:53 pm

    I didn’t intend for my post to be quoted in this article, but I wanted to make clear that I support the free exchange of ideas and free speech, especially on college campuses. Mr. Sekulow should be allowed to speak on campus, but I don’t think Founder’s Day is the appropriate venue for that given that his work that has marginalized many students and runs contrary to some of Mercer’s core values.

    [Reply]

    Carl V. Lewis Reply:

    Agreed. That is the argument in our open letter. wearemercer.org

    [Reply]

  3. Rebecca on January 25th, 2018 3:24 pm

    Let him come speak. If students don’t want to go they don’t have to. Don’t be one of those schools on the National news that display their intolerance of diverse perspectives!

    [Reply]

  4. Paul on January 26th, 2018 9:08 am

    Nixon spoke at Law Day. Sekulow can speak at Founders Day.

    [Reply]

  5. Jerry W. Brimberry on January 26th, 2018 9:33 am

    As an alumnus of Mercer University (BA degree 1961, law degree 1963, 3/3 program) I am delighted for Jay Sekulo to be the keynote speaker for Founders’ Day. He is a man of Christian values who should fit nicely with Mercer which was founded, and hopefully still grounded, on Christian values. The protesters I’m sure are in the great minority but as usual are the more vocal. If Jesus Christ were scheduled to be the keynote speaker I’m sure there would be those lost souls who would march and protest. Our once-great country has sadly been shackled by the crippling concept of “political correctness “, and that yoke should be cast aside. If the protesters don’t want to hear what he has to say they can simply stay in their dorm and dream up other causes to “belly-ache” about. For once I would love to see the supporters of Christian speakers give a show of force to off-set the disgruntled minority who seem to monopolize the headlines.

    [Reply]

  6. Donna Price on January 27th, 2018 9:54 am

    In 1961 Mercer became the first private white University in the South to voluntarily racially integrate. This caused friction with conservative supporters. When I attended (BA 1976, JD 1979) it had among the highest percentage of minority students at a predominantly white private University. The conflict between the liberal supporters and conservative opponents of Mercer’s movement toward full inclusion was palpable. By 2006 the Georgia and Southern Baptist Associations had severed all financial support for the University, with the final straw being Mercer’s refusal to disestablish a Gay-Straight Alliance. I am proud of Mercer’s history and legacy, as a Christian-based University in actually practicing the Gospel of inclusion of all.

    Mercer’s “Founder’s Day” has been to honor the University’s heritage. I am dismayed that Jay Sekulow, who attended about the same time I did, is this year’s speaker. To honor Mr. Sekulow, as the Founder’s Day speaker; whose life work is focused on division and constructing a male-dominated, white-Christian, anti-inclusion, theocracy in America, is a gross distortion of the honoring of the heritage of an institution that has gone against convention and the status quo to promote the inclusion of people of color, women, different ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Diversity of viewpoints is the hallmark of an educational institution. I applaud inviting Mr. Sekulow to speak…but not at this event. His life is and has been completely contrary to the heritage of the Mercer University I love and cherish.

    And, I protested Nixon’s presence on the campus when he came and spoke at Law Day, also announcing that the next aircraft carrier would be the USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70).

    There is a time and a place for everything, and while Jay Sekulow should be invited to speak at the University, it should not be at Founder’s Day.

    Donna Price
    CAPT, JAGC, USN (Retired)
    Transgender Veteran

    [Reply]

  7. Carl V. Lewis on January 27th, 2018 10:15 am

    Nearly 500 alumni have now signed a petition to express our dismay at the selection of Sekulow.

    Our petition is at http://wearemercer.org.

    P.S.—As a former Cluster editor and the founder of MercerCluster.com, I would have preferred less false balance in this piece. It’s irresposible reporting practice to publish he said/she said narratives that equate two sides when even a small amount of research shows the evidence clearly exists to make a definitive claim as to Selulow’s character.

    [Reply]

  8. Walter on January 29th, 2018 1:59 pm

    I still don’t know what views Mr. Sekulow holds that everyone is so upset about. How about another article where Mr. Sekulow is quoted or his views are documented?

    [Reply]

  9. Gregory Long on February 4th, 2018 3:28 pm

    I’m normally very proud of my alma mater, but am deeply disappointed in the choice of Jay Sekulo as a speaker for Founders Day. Mercer made me a better person during my time there, with inspirational teachers such as Dr. Joe Hendricks. Bringing someone such as Mr. Sekulo to the campus feels like the antithesis of the wonderful experience I had when I attended. It’s very sad to see this.

    [Reply]

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Students raise concerns about speaker selection for Founder’s Day